If you asked me to name the one place along Highway 395 that I would like to return to, the answer would be easy. Bishop. Bishop ,CA is the kind of town that you would admire as unchanged for decades. See it before that is no longer true. It is pretty small at about 4,000 people and sits beautifully at the north end of the Owens Valley at 4,000 feet above sea level. The Owens River flows through town and bypasses the visitors center. That one foot of elevation per person is just a current coincidence.
Bishop is a major outfitting headquarters for those who intend to stay in the area for a time. Bishop is the kind of place that calls out for a week or more of attention. The Scenic 395 Official Guide that I picked up at the Bishop Visitor Center practically across the street from the outrageously popular Schat Bakery is considered by the VC staff to be the best source for tourist info about the area. Outside this A-frame facility is a tribute to a Viet Nam vet from Bishop. It’s the kind of tribute about personal valor that everyone should take the time to read but few do. It notes the stunning military career of Colonel Kern W. Dunagan who became a Medal of Honor Recipient and father of 5.
Back in Bishop again, I would use its locale to revisit and explore Death Valley and Yosemite National Park, and I would revisit Manzanar and the Bristlecone Pine Forest south of town. I would take the time to visit Keough Hot Springs, the very reason for Bishop’s existence, and go up to the Buttermilk area to learn more about Bishop’s gold mining past. I would look for and explore more of the historic signs that the State of California has put up in the area. Ruth and I learned about Buttermilk via one of them, but we did not take the time to go see it or the hot springs called Keough even though both were highly recommended. The one big attraction in town that we did see was the Laws Historic Site.
The 395 Official Guide recommends that those in the Bishop area see its many waterfalls some of which are well hidden. But this is admittedly a summer hikers activity that depends on the abundant rains that California has not had this year. This guide portrays Bishop as a place to swim, fish, camp, and enjoy the outdoors. All 4 activities are touted on signs all over town with its year-round trout fishing and town murals like the one above which hangs above an art supply store well promoted. We could not get into the Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center in town or see the Eastern California Museum in Independence that was recommended as having the largest collection in the world of local Native American basketry. As you can see, Bishop has an inexhaustible number of attractions nearby and in town. We left Bishop feeling like we didn’t see enough, but we did manage to eat twice at the Erick Schat Bakery before heading north again on 395.